Ubisoft had a strong showing at E3 this year, with a portfolio of titles that covered all bases. From the hardcore crowd pleasers such as Assassin's Creed 2 and Splinter Cell Conviction, to the casual favourites of the best-selling Imagine series, Hollywood blockbusters from James Cameron and new collaborations in the longer-term from Q Entertainment and Steven Spielberg, the publisher has almost all markets covered.
In this exclusive interview with GamesIndustry.biz, Alain Corre, executive director of Ubisoft, discusses the 2009 line-up, how it's betting on five big titles this year, why there's still room for innovation in the Wii market and why the company isn't afraid to take risks by entering the football genre.
Q: Ubisoft had a big line-up at E3 this year. Are you confident you've got a strong variety of titles for release in 2009?
Alain Corre: We are actually betting on games that we hope will be triple-A sales. It seems that judging from the response we had at the show, the five blockbusters that we are counting on – Assassin's Creed 2, Splinter Cell Conviction, Avatar, Rabbids Go Home and Red Steel 2 – the response is positive. We are confident and we have to continue to show nice products to consumers. The vibes are good.
Q: So with Assassin's Creed 2 you're hoping to repeat the success of the first game in terms of sales?
Alain Corre: Definitely. What we tried to do with Assassin's Creed 2 was respect the spirit of the first one. Because of the success of the first Assassin's Creed our retailers are keen to get this in store to try to maximise exposure in stores.
Splinter Cell is also pleasing many, it's a surprise for most of the people seeing the game and for us also because to an extent the way we are developing games is may be a bit different. We have a lot of people working on the product at once so we don't see the progress very well until is comes above the level of the water. We have spent some time understanding how to modify the gameplay and make the franchise evolve. We've had many tries on this one, I would say that the game has been developed many times and now in the recent 12 months we have found a new angle. We've tried to make the game available to a broader audience but still be challenging to the hardcore gamers. We wanted to bring innovation to the series, a fresh approach.
Q: So you're happy to delay big titles if you can turn out a better game?
Alain Corre: Yes. The essence of Ubisoft is to create worlds, universes, brands, and these are our jewels. We can't damage what are the assets of the company and Splinter Cell is one of the biggest brands that we have and so quality is number one on the agenda. If we consider it would damage the value of the brand we will always consider reworking the game.
Q: Why go exclusive to the Xbox 360 with Splinter Cell Conviction?
Alain Corre: It was a decision that we took many years ago. It's been an ongoing process. For us when we decided to do that many years ago it was a logical step.
Q: But you're going to miss sales by limiting the game to one home console platform...
Alain Corre: But there are also a lot of hardcore gamers who have ownership of both consoles. And everyone has a PC at home. To a certain extent if players want the next Splinter Cell game they will find a way.
Q: Ubisoft is working with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson on a tie-in to the Tin Tin movie. Is that going to be the same arrangement as you have with James Cameron on Avatar, where you'll be creating assets at your Hybride Technologies studio for use in both film and game?
Alain Corre: Yes and it's quite new for Ubisoft. We're considering that games and cinema have a lot to share and a lot to bring to each other. As a videogame company we are experts in developing interactive experiences but we still have a lot of learn in terms of narration and scenarios. Working with Hollywood guys who have been doing that forever and are experts in doing that helps us enrich our interactive experiences. What we want is to go on sharing and ultimately define the next generation of interactive entertainment which will encompass the quality of narration and our expertise. It's very rich and we are very open to share our technologies.
That's why we bought Hybride, because we want to consider releasing universes and worlds not only just as videogames but we want consumers to have access to our heroes in different ways, whether that's books or movies or web-based games. Videogames will be at the top of that pyramid. We feel that our consumers are really hungry in doing more with out heroes than they can with just a videogame. An example is the Imagine brand, where we have lot of opportunities with books, Web TV shows and figurines. A lot of girls have been following that in the last three years and we'll be able to do more with that with Imagine Online at the end of the year.
Q: Ubisoft was one of the first publishers to follow Nintendo's lead and cater to girls and a more casual audience on the Wii and DS. Are you still happy to push that considering the amount of competition in the Wii market?
Alain Corre: If you can surprise the consumers, if you can innovate and bring something new fresh then you have huge opportunities. We're trying to do that and we have a lot of hope with our fitness game Your Shape. For the first time we'll be able to offer a camera with the package and players won't need a controller in their hand. The possibility is to open up interactive entertainment to a new population who have previously been afraid of any controllers. The Wii market still has huge potential, you just need to find the right angle and be different enough and innovative enough to please people. There are hundreds of games and if yours is a 'me too' title it will drown before even existing.
Q: You're bundling camera technology with that game - does that up the costs of development significantly for a Wii title, when the format is considered cheaper to develop for?
Alain Corre: Well the camera hardware already exists and it's just adapting that to our game to make sure they work well together and are precise. It's a different team and they have different skills to those that develop our hardcore games so cost isn't significantly higher. We also study all the casual groups to make sure the population we're aiming at will be pleased by the product. It's a different way of considering your consumers. There's one thing in common with the development of Assassin's Creed 2 and Your Shape, and that's we are trying to bring something new to the consumer.
Q: You're working on a new project with Q Entertainment – what do they bring to the Ubisoft portfolio that the company doesn't already have?
Alain Corre: Q Entertainment is excellent in bringing new concepts and different gaming experiences and they are also very advanced and specialised in how to exploit the music genre. We wanted to partner with Tetsuya Mizuguchi because he's a famous character and we can share a lot of about what will be the next videogame market in five to ten years. Sharing ideas with this kind of genius brings a whole lot to the company and all the teams making different kinds of games.
Q: So is Ubisoft interested in entering the music genre in the same capacity as Activision has with the Guitar Hero franchise?
Alain Corre: We have been researching the music genre a lot. We know some iterations of music games are working very well in the music category. There are a lot of new things to invent in the future with voice or dance, so we're very much looking at what we can do in that respect.
Q: You're also entering the football market with Academy of Champions. Are you confident you can offer something different and succeed in a market dominated by FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer?
Alain Corre: It's a challenge for sure. We respect very much the FIFA and PES brands because they are excellent gaming achievements, they are bringing everything to the football genre in a perfect way. So we didn't want to be in that segment. But we feel that especially on the Wii, with the population playing that console, people want more easy and casual games, more fun, and we believe that with Academy of Champions we are taking a different route. We still have all the football rules, and it feels like a soccer pitch. But we feel that there's a opportunity in the Wii market after Mario Strikers to have success. And hopefully Pele will help us promote that.
Q: You've certainly pulled in an impressive endorsement of the game by signing Pele to the title.
Alain Corre: Exactly. What's impressive is this man has been travelling the world since the age of 16 and has had success all over, but he still remains humble. He's very interested in people in a very genuine way. The fact that he's spending his time trying to promote games that can bring something to kids and he's so passionate about that, for us it's a lesson. He's 69, he could retire.
Q: What are your impressions of the new motion control technology from Sony and Microsoft?
Alain Corre: What we like is they can offer new ways of experiencing gaming. It gives plenty of possibilities for us as games creators to invent new possibilities of gameplay. It's a revolution because we've always been used to controllers and now you either don't have one at all you have something that isn't intimidating. It's something we have to integrate and invent games that we have never experienced before. And hopefully it will grow the industry and make more consumers come to games because we are getting closer to them and there are less and less barriers to playing. Ultimately that will expand the videogame industry in the next ten years.
Alain Corre is executive director of Ubisoft. Interview by Matt Martin.